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A new weapon in the fight against superbugs | David Brenner


So … we’re in a real live war
at the moment, and it’s a war that we’re truly losing. It’s a war on superbugs. So you might wonder, if I’m going to talk about superbugs, why I’m showing you a photograph
of some soccer fans — Liverpool soccer fans
celebrating a famous victory in Istanbul, a decade ago. In the back, in the red shirt, well, that’s me, and next to me in the red hat,
that’s my friend Paul Rice. So a couple of years
after this picture was taken, Paul went into hospital
for some minor surgery, and he developed
a superbug-related infection, and he died. And I was truly shocked. He was a healthy guy in the prime of life. So there and then, and actually with a lot of encouragement
from a couple of TEDsters, I declared my own
personal war on superbugs. So let’s talk about superbugs
for a moment. The story actually starts in the 1940s with the widespread
introduction of antibiotics. And since then, drug-resistant bacteria
have continued to emerge, and so we’ve been forced to develop
newer and newer drugs to fight these new bacteria. And this vicious cycle
actually is the origin of superbugs, which is simply bacteria
for which we don’t have effective drugs. I’m sure you’ll recognize
at least some of these superbugs. These are the more
common ones around today. Last year, around 700,000 people died from superbug-related diseases. Looking to the future, if we carry on on the path we’re going, which is basically a drugs-based
approach to the problem, the best estimate
by the middle of this century is that the worldwide death toll
from superbugs will be 10 million. 10 million. Just to put that in context,
that’s actually more than the number of people
that died of cancer worldwide last year. So it seems pretty clear
that we’re not on a good road, and the drugs-based approach
to this problem is not working. I’m a physicist, and so I wondered, could we take
a physics-based approach — a different approach to this problem. And in that context, the first thing we know for sure, is that we actually know how to kill
every kind of microbe, every kind of virus, every kind of bacteria. And that’s with ultraviolet light. We’ve actually known this
for more than 100 years. I think you all know
what ultraviolet light is. It’s part of a spectrum
that includes infrared, it includes visible light, and the short-wavelength part
of this group is ultraviolet light. The key thing from our perspective here is that ultraviolet light kills bacteria
by a completely different mechanism from the way drugs kill bacteria. So ultraviolet light is just as capable
of killing a drug-resistant bacteria as any other bacteria, and because ultraviolet light
is so good at killing all bugs, it’s actually used a lot these days
to sterilize rooms, sterilize working surfaces. What you see here is a surgical theater being sterilized with germicidal
ultraviolet light. But what you don’t see
in this picture, actually, is any people, and there’s a very good reason for that. Ultraviolet light
is actually a health hazard, so it can damage cells in our skin, cause skin cancer, it can damage cells in our eye, cause eye diseases like cataract. So you can’t use conventional,
germicidal, ultraviolet light when there are people are around. And of course, we want to sterilize mostly
when there are people around. So the ideal ultraviolet light would actually be able
to kill all bacteria, including superbugs, but would be safe for human exposure. And actually that’s where my physics
background kicked into this story. Together with my physics colleagues, we realized there actually is a particular
wavelength of ultraviolet light that should kill all bacteria, but should be safe for human exposure. That wavelength is called far-UVC light, and it’s just the short-wavelength part
of the ultraviolet spectrum. So let’s see how that would work. What you’re seeing here
is the surface of our skin, and I’m going to superimpose on that
some bacteria in the air above the skin. Now we’re going to see what happens when conventional, germicidal,
ultraviolet light impinges on this. So what you see is, as we know, germicidal light
is really good at killing bacteria, but what you also see is that it penetrates
into the upper layers of our skin, and it can damage
those key cells in our skin which ultimately, when damaged,
can lead to skin cancer. So let’s compare now with far-UVC light — same situation, skin and some bacteria
in the air above them. So what you’re seeing now is that again, far-UVC light’s
perfectly fine at killing bacteria, but what far-UVC light can’t do
is penetrate into our skin. And there’s a good,
solid physics reason for that: far-UVC light is incredibly, strongly
absorbed by all biological materials, so it simply can’t go very far. Now, viruses and bacteria
are really, really, really small, so the far-UVC light can certainly
penetrate them and kill them, but what it can’t do
is penetrate into skin, and it can’t even penetrate
the dead-cell area right at the very surface of our skin. So far-UVC light
should be able to kill bacteria, but kill them safely. So that’s the theory. It should work, should be safe. What about in practice? Does it really work? Is it really safe? So that’s actually what our lab
has been working on the past five or six years, and I’m delighted to say the answer
to both these questions is an emphatic yes. Yes, it does work, but yes, it is safe. So I’m delighted to say that, but actually I’m not very
surprised to say that, because it’s purely the laws
of physics at work. So let’s look to the future. I’m thrilled that we now have
a completely new weapon, and I should say an inexpensive weapon, in our fight against superbugs. For example, I see far-UVC lights in surgical theaters. I see far-UVC lights
in food preparation areas. And in terms of preventing
the spread of viruses, I see far-UVC lights in schools, preventing the spread of influenza, preventing the spread of measles, and I see far-UVC lights
in airports or airplanes, preventing the global spread
of viruses like H1N1 virus. So back to my friend Paul Rice. He was actually a well-known
and well-loved local politician in his and my hometown of Liverpool, and they put up a statue in his memory
in the center of Liverpool, and there it is. But me, I want Paul’s legacy to be a major advance
in this war against superbugs. Armed with the power of light, that’s actually within our grasp. Thank you. (Applause) Chris Anderson: Stay up here, David,
I’ve got a question for you. (Applause) David, tell us where you’re up to
in developing this, and what are the remaining obstacles
to trying to roll out and realize this dream? David Brenner: Well, I think we now know
that it kills all bacteria, but we sort of knew
that before we started, but we certainly tested that. So we have to do lots and lots
of tests about safety, and so it’s more about safety
than it is about efficacy. And we need to do short-term tests, and we need to do long-term tests to make sure you can’t develop
melanoma many years on. So those studies
are pretty well done at this point. The FDA of course is something
we have to deal with, and rightly so, because we certainly can’t use this
in the real world without FDA approval. CA: Are you trying
to launch first in the US, or somewhere else? DB: Actually, in a couple of countries. In Japan and in the US, both. CA: Have you been able to persuade
biologists, doctors, that this is a safe approach? DB: Well, as you can imagine,
there is a certain skepticism because everybody knows
that UV light is not safe. So when somebody comes along and says, “Well, this particular UV light is safe,” there is a barrier to be crossed, but the data are there, and I think that’s what
we’re going to be standing on. CA: Well, we wish you well. This is potentially such important work. Thank you so much
for sharing this with us. Thank you, David. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “A new weapon in the fight against superbugs | David Brenner

  1. His presentation is great, and new ways to kill superbugs are always welcome.
    But trying to sterilise everybody nearly everywhere (airport/school) is just nonsense what about our comensal bacterias ? And What about the selective pressure it creates ? Because that method is innefective against intracellular bacterias, they will proliferate ! Moreover if any kind of bacteria immune to that light exist, they will proliferate, be everywhere and may give the resitance to other bacteria.
    He also claims that the "drug method" against superbugs is not effective, but here in France and nearly all europe we do not use antibiotics like candies (contrary to the US). And superbugs are really uncommon and are kept under surveillance. Plus we have always some antiotics that we use only against them that are still effective. So by not prescribing drug the "drug method" actually works nearly everytime

  2. I see human beings developing immune deficiencies from lack of exposure to otherwise benign bacteria. I see deaths from flu and allergies skyrocketing as younger people struggle to develop a healthy immune system. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Food prep areas and planes, mostly okay; might make your yogurt taste funky though. Hospitals, perfect place for this technology. Schools, airports, and homes, you're asking for trouble. You truly and really are just tempting fate because the second you step outside your body is going to get a rude awakening the real world and we are spending more and more time indoors giving our body's immune systems less and less exposure to pathogens for resistance.

  3. Yes, yes. You can sterilize surfaces and rooms, but how does this help if you have an infection? Swallowing a bunch of LEDs doesn't seem like an option. Antibiotics are mainly used internally, NOT to sterilize public spaces. This isn't a super weapon, its a glorified surgical mask; Its prevention, not treatment.

  4. I know my comment will generate backlash but…… Superbugs? Human Arrogance and Greed has caused the problem. So my comment to this war is Pffffffttttt! Get Rid of Big Pharma or the Super Bugs will never be eliminated.

  5. I would'nt put these everywhere but certainly in any space where sick people would go anyway like in waiting rooms for clinics maybe looking into wheter dentists could use this safely as its hard to work in someones mouth

  6. This is still not anywhere near considered safe atm so calm down people before you call it amazing. We don't even know the impact of killing the good stuff too and the impact it could have on our immune system after a couple generations. Just being indoors more often already lead to our system being weaker.

  7. Well. Appreciated. But it would be able to kill microbes found obly5on the surface of skin. What about microbes in blood and viscera? They are the one which cause the disease after all.

  8. He's very clearly not a biologist. Life finds a way. Especially if you blast everything with whatever it is you're trying to kill it with 24/7. This is a recipe for quickly evolving UV-resistant bacteria.

  9. It is comparable to desinfection liquids containing alcohol. It both only works ON the skin and physically kills the bacteria. I don't see much of an advantage and we don't know enough about microbiomes. Killing all of the bacteria without being infected by "bad" bacteria won't do the job…

  10. i wonder however how this can impact our microbiomes since you deny some types of bacteria to survive over others. will this not potentially provide a inbalance. or worse, our imume system is not prepared due to lack of exposure of some bad bacterea due to living in the west and when we go on vacation to a country not having this implemented.

  11. But most bacteria are pretty important and necessary… That's quite a huge intervention into this ecosystem of all the microbes everywehre (on our skin etc.). Not sure if it's worth it in the end.

  12. What about systemic infections? If the light cannot penetrate the outer epithelium, then how is it clinically relevant if the infection is subdermal or septic? We can just apply a topical cream for topical infections…

  13. What might not be safe (and they aren't testing, according to the video) is the possible detrimental effects of long time exposition for our natural healthy skin microbiota (the normal bacterias of the skin).

  14. Someone not Cleaning the surgical tools is a reason to program people to New man made weapons for depopulation. NEW SUPER BUGS. GUESS WHAT FRAUD PYSICIST, EARTH IS FLAT 😂

  15. So that UV light can't penetrate skin. Fine, but it does penetrate our eyes like visible light. What's to assure that no damage is done to the completely vulnerable retina?

  16. Medical purposes I can understand.  In emergency situations this is perfect, but for everyday use isn't that a bit extreme?  We have good bacteria that we need on the outside of our bodies.  To disrupt the entire microbiological system by killing all bacteria around us all the time would be more damaging than good.  Only a small percentage of bacteria are bad for us.  Again this is great news for hospitals and being used for treatment, but I think it's a bad idea to put these in lights around schools, airports, and malls.  Kids especially need to be exposed in order to build up immunity.

  17. We should preserve our flora and microbiome. Death by superbugs is a natural selection process in which we should not interfere.

  18. no thanks! Stop feeding livestock megatons of antibiotics and stop prescribing antibiotics for every illness and we would be better off.

  19. Problem is, antibiotics are used to treat a patient when the bug is already in their system. Your solution only provides a way to treat for bugs on the surface of the skin. How do you propose to kill superbugs once they've infected an organism using Far UVC Light.

  20. This is a cool idea the only problem is "ehhhhh…life….life finds a way". What happens in 60 years when we get a bug that is resistant to this wavelength of light. When we confront an organism with death they are going to try to find a way to survive, we've seen this with drugs in the past. maybe the answer isn't to eradicate them but to find a way to remove the pathogenic aspect of the organism and allow them to survive like the other bacteria on and in us.

  21. so practically the aim is to prevent the problem before it happens
    so for the ppl who are currently sick at the moment it wont help at all

  22. I just hope they don't end up abusing this technology, supposing it ever gets widely adopted. We all know that living in completely sanitized environments has terrible effects on our immune systems.

  23. I think it would be good to reduce the population by 10 million. The earth can't handle this large population and it's gonna have to get rid of people one way or another. I wish people didn't have to die but the population is just too big and Mother Nature will find a way to stabilize to a level she can sustain.

  24. ban the use of them on animals. make them for human use only. stop the livestock industry from using them. regulate them more and stop handing them out like candy at the doctors. oh you have the sniffles here are some antibiotics. it could slow them down at least.

  25. So it isn’t actually useful in fighting drug resistant bacterial infections, it’s just useful in preventing them.

  26. How about if someone had a scab or OBVIOUSLY an injury like in a hospital where the person doesnt have dead skin near or on his injury where its exposed to the UV light? Is dead skin the only barrier, how about if a patient is laying down on the bed looking up for a long period of time. This video did nothing more than show us such a invention exists.

  27. UV is nothing new, it only works on the surface it applies. The key problem is the ways to apply are very difficult in reality. in the airport example, everyone need to take clothes off and shine the UV light including private area, not to mention items piece by piece in luggage. Furthermore, It is almost impossible to reach all the "superbugs" already inside a patient's body.

  28. I think the thing that will not make this effective is we need bugs. We need children to be exposed to them so the can develop resistance. Take a person who has lived in a far-uv light world, introduce them somewhere that isn't, and you have disaster.

  29. Not sure it would be a good thing. This uv light would not discriminate between benign bacteria and super bugs. We need benign bacterias because they help boost the immune system.

  30. This is truly idiotic. He doesn't even mention to topic of useful and necessary microbiomes. Putting these lights everywhere could have disasterous secondary health consequences.

  31. why can't laboratories and hospitals use ultra violet light at night when everyone goes home? at least it would sterilize the labs , kitchens and other important rooms….

  32. 100% cure rate on c-dif using fecal transplants (either oral – pills – or colonoscopy implant) 
    Did I mention 100% success rate.

  33. Does it also kill the probiotic flora in the body? 
    Our immune system NEEDS the probiotica in our body. 
    We have 10 Trillion cells in our body, and in our gut we have 100 Trillion bacteria that live symbiotically and we absolutely need them to survive. So what I'm hearing is that there is still a high risk/benefit ratio to consider if choosing this type of treatment.

  34. So which bonds absorb strongest at this wave length? No comment to that? UV 485 is absorbed strongly by Adenine which is why it is so deadly. It sounds like this lower wave length is absorbed rather indiscriminately and sterilizes on basis of heat transfer. So it's way less energy efficient against bacteria, just it harms the skin less. I bet you need quite high radiation that is still harmful to eyes and is also quite energy costly for purposes as presented in the presentation. E.g his could heat up the airport too much in permanent use.

  35. RE: Resistance
    There would need to be an unprecedented DNA repair system pretty much – with regards to actually preventing the uv light from penetrating that's a whole other beast

  36. Life will find a way. Some bacteria or archaean is going to evolve a UV reflecting cytoplasm or membrane. Maybe they already exist.

  37. Takes a physicist to do a biologists' or chemists' job.

    Funnily enough I had the same exact idea like 6-7 years ago but what can you do as a teenager?

  38. I thought Superbugs are gonna be big, freaky, alien-ish insects that really suck peoples blood but my expectations didn’t live up to the moment.

  39. In regards to the krypton-chlorine (Kr-Cl) excimer lamp that produces 222-nm UV light.

    Would a device using these bulbs require a ballast?

  40. Colloidal silver is antiviral antibacterial anti fungus, it cures superbugs, the best product to buy is sovereign silver because it is the smallest particle size and the purest silver 99.999 percent and pharmaceutical grade water when talking about purity here. The pharmaceutical industry can't patent it so they won't use this or even recommend it. This colloidal substance can even cure malaria, can treat colds and flus naturally. You can cure eye, ears, sinus and pneumonia infections too. I like this light approach topically. But internally colloidal silver is the most antimicrobial substance known to man. God bless hope this helps.

  41. Excellent presentation, thank you. Photo medicine is powerful and delivers undeniable results! And the UVC aspect of it must go forward! The companies that makes sunscreen products try to tell people that you will get skin cancer if you let the sun hit your skin without their products on your skin. This is way overblown due to the greed of these companies. The Sun keeps us alive, and it puts out a lot of UV frequency. But it is for a reason. We would not be able to live without it. We were born to live in the Sun's frequencies, including UV!

  42. What Nanometers are we talking about specifically. He patented something. What did he patent? Can I make my own Far UVC light fixtures myself now or do I have to buy it?

  43. Wow! People with google knowledge offering alot of fear and chest thumping. There is a way to use this UV safely in a contained manner. There is no reasonable bulb that creates the monochromatic nm needed….but there are ways to isolate and use it. Lots at play including byproducts, killing "good" bacteria, mouth or open wound etc….All of the effects could be contained and the benefit far outweighs reducing MRSA and other new or undiscovered viruses. UV light has been around FOREVER and being used for decades and if you really want to get crazy, could be responsible for human life itself. Point is any effect that you may think is "bad" can be minimized or eliminated completely quite simply.

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